Growing Guide
plant thumbnail

Cardinal flower

Herbaceous Perennial Flower, Wildflower

Also known as Red lobelia
Lobelia cardinalis
Lobeliaceae Family

A popular though short-lived perennial that produces a profusion of brilliant scarlet flowers atop 3- to 4-foot-tall plants. Native to wet areas in the eastern U.S., will tolerate full sun if soil is kept moist.

Site Characteristics
  • part shade
Tolerates full sun with enough moisture, especially where summers are cooler.

Soil conditions:

  • tolerates damp soil
  • Tolerates poor drainage

Hardiness zones:

  • 2 to 9
May be only marginally hardy in Zone 2.
Plant Traits

Lifecycle: perennial

Tends to be short-lived.

Ease-of-care: moderately difficult

Height: 3 to 4 feet

Spread: 1 to 2 feet

Bloom time:

  • mid-summer
  • late summer
  • early fall

Flower color:

  • red
  • white
  • pink

Species bears spikes of brilliant, scarlet-red flowers. Some varieties are pink to white.

Foliage color: dark green

Sometimes bronze-tinged.

Foliage texture: medium

Shape: upright

Shape in flower: flower stalks with upright spikes

Special Considerations
Special characteristics:
  • non-aggressive
  • non-invasive
  • native to North America - Wet places in eastern North America.
  • beneficial insects
  • butterflies
Growing Information
How to plant:

Propagate by seed, cuttings, division or separation - Sow seeds as soon as they are ripe. Self-sows readily. Some varieties are hybrids and will not breed true.

Make stem cuttings in midsummer.

In fall, divide new rosettes that form to the side of parent plants.

Maintenance and care:
Deadhead to improve appearance and encourage rebloom. Because plants are short-lived some reseeding is desirable.

Pinch back if you want bushier, more compact plants.

Keep soil moist during summer dry spells. Afternoon shade is beneficial if soil is dry.

Do not cut plants back in fall. Mulch lightly. While moisture-loving during the growing season, excess moisture can kill plants overwinter.

Divide plants every 2 or 3 years. Allow plants to self-seed to replace short-lived plants.

More growing information: How to Grow Perennials

Slugs and snails
Leaf spots
'Alba' has white flowers.

'Heather Pink' has soft pink flowers.

'Angel Song' has salmon and cream flowers.

'Rosea' has pink flowers.

'Ruby Slippers' has dark ruby-red flowers. Hardy only to Zone 4.

'Twilight Zone' has pink flowers.

'Arabella's Vision' has brilliant red flowers.